Wesleyan professor featured in WallHub study on happiness

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it, causing sickness, limiting social interactions, and leading to widespread job losses. During these trials, which have had a strong negative impact on Americans’ mental health, WalletHub searched for the states where people can stay positive despite the circumstances.

To determine where Americans exhibit the best combination of these factors, WalletHub examined the 50 states across 32 key metrics, ranging from the depression rate and the positive COVID-19 testing rate to income growth and the unemployment rate. To expand the discussion, they asked a panel of experts to share their advice and insight on achieving overall happiness and career contentment. 

Holly Cole

Ph.D. – Assistant Professor of Psychology – Wesleyan College

What are the key ingredients to a happy life?

Happiness is an on-going pursuit. Having a happy life does not mean living in a constant state of pure joy, but rather being satisfied and content with one’s life. Typically, this is achieved by forming and maintaining close relationships, accepting new challenges, keeping an optimistic outlook on life, and trying to maintain a generous attitude.

How important is money to people’s happiness?

Money is important to happiness only to the extent that a person can afford the basic necessities of life. As long as a person has enough income that they do not have to worry about where their next meal will come from or if their electricity will cut off, then extra money does not increase happiness very much. In fact, buying new material items is not a very effective way to increase happiness in the long run. If happiness is the goal, then spend extra money on new experiences with friends or donate to a good cause. Trying out new things and being generous are more likely to increase happiness levels over time.

What are the secrets to career contentment?

Career contentment is more likely when a person holds a career that offers new and achievable challenges. People tend to be happiest in a career where they are faced with new challenges, but only when the challenges are achievable with hard work. If the challenge is impossible or takes too long to accomplish, people tend to get frustrated and less content with their careers.

Considering the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, what will be the long-term effects on citizens’ level of happiness? What are some steps a person can take to ensure a state of psychological well-being?

The pandemic has forced most people to reevaluate their priorities. Many people have found themselves with more free time, less income, and deeper relationships than they have ever experience in their lifetime. These changes can have both positive and negative impacts on overall well-being, but to maximize long-term happiness one should reflect on these changes and consciously decide which they want to give up and which they want to maintain. Take this moment to reflect on what is truly valuable in life and make that a priority even after the pandemic is over.

Read on for WalletHub’s findings, additional insights from a panel of experts, and a full description of the methodology.

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About Wesleyan College

Wesleyan draws a wonderfully eclectic mix of women – about 700 in all – from across the United States and more than twenty countries, bringing to campus a multitude of backgrounds and ethnicities. Wesleyan students choose to study here because they want to test their limits. The bar is set high because our students demand it. First for Women isn’t just a claim to fame - it’s a philosophy that explains why Wesleyan women continue to make history today.


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